FOI release

Families with multiple problems

A Freedom of Information disclosure about the government's policy in tackling families with multiple problems, and how it went about collating such data.



  • Date requested: 1 September 2011
  • Publish date: 20 September 2011
  • Updated: 26 April 2012


According to newspaper reports David Cameron states that 120,000 families have been identified as having multiple problems that need to be addressed, and the government intends to do so by the next election.

Which government body collated the list and what plans are there to deal with such families?


The estimate of around 120,000 families - and it must be stressed that it this is an estimate of the total number of families with multiple problems in England, it’s not a list of the families concerned - was carried out by the Cabinet Office.

The Cabinet Office’s Task Force for Social Exclusion, in June 2007, did some analysis of a survey of 7,000 families in 2005. This showed that around 140,000 families (adjusted to 117,000 for England only) were identified as having five or more problems from the following seven:

  • No parent in the family is in work
  • Family lives in poor quality or overcrowded housing
  • No parent has any qualifications
  • Mother has mental health problems
  • At least one parent has a longstanding limiting illness, disability or infirmity
  • Family has low income (below 60% of the median)
  • Family cannot afford a number of food and clothing items

The department does not have any data on where families with multiple problems live.

There is a range of programmes that intervene with families with multiple problems. The most well known is probably Family Intervention services and projects. These services use a ‘key worker’ who works intensively with perhaps half a dozen families at any one time, assessing what the family as a whole needs to turn itself around, not just the individual, e.g., benefit claimant.

Having established a position of trust the key worker can both support and challenge the family. There is mounting evidence that this kind of intervention is very effective, not just in improving outcomes - reducing domestic violence, for example, and anti-social behaviour - but also, because it prevents problems worsening, saving taxpayers’ money by, e.g., reducing the number of children going into care or the number of court cases required.

Further information regarding what local authorities and their partners are doing to intervene with these families is available.

Published 20 September 2011